The jihadists who leave France to fight the regime of Bashar al-Assad in Syria symbolise an Islamist "fifth column" within France, perhaps the most potent of fears associated with immigration. Some of the jihadists, such as Jean-Daniel and Nicolas Bons, brothers from Toulouse who died fighting in Syria last year, are Christians who converted to Islam. Their fate gives substance to French paranoia about contagion by radical Islam.

Their father, Gérard Bon, has founded an association to fight the recruitment of young Frenchmen for jihad. The government fears that jihadists will return from Syria to carry out attacks in France. So returning veterans are threatened with 15 years in prison for having participated in "terrorism" – ironic, since president François Hollande has called for Assad's downfall. Bons recounts how his sons told him that the prospect of years in prison dissuaded them from coming home.

French intelligence says 700 French and foreigners living in France are involved in the Syrian jihad; 250 as combatants. On January 19th, interior minister Manuel Valls said "they represent for me the greatest danger we shall have to face in coming years".

Read the complete original version of this item...